Stephen Foley: Can Hefner bear to part with Playboy?
Saturday 14 November 2009
US Outlook Someone needs to persuade Hugh Hefner to hang up his dressing gown. The 83-year-old founder of Playboy magazine is in talks about selling his company, according to rumours swirling on the New York Stock Exchange, but it remains uncertain if the old lech can bear to part with it.
Too many large parts of the company, Playboy Enterprises, have slipped into anachronism. A tsunami of porn from the internet has washed away its pay-television business. The magazine Mr Hefner launched in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe on the cover, which has scaled back publication from 12 issues to 10 per year, is these days described by the company as a "publicity generator" rather than a source of profit. Feminism happened, too, of course, even if Mr Hefner didn't spot it.
The group's annual revenues have flatlined around the $300m mark for the whole of this decade, and the company rarely eked out a profit. This year looks even worse for the bottom line.
One of the potential buyers is Iconix, a company which specialises in reviving old brands, and which owns the fashion brands Candie's and London Fog. The tie-up makes sense, since Playboy's future clearly lies in hitching the brand to new ventures such as fancy nightclubs, fragrances and the like, but it has already made quite strong inroads in these areas.
The main task facing a new owner would be to take a meat-cleaver to the older parts of the company, faster than business reality can whittle them away. That is too painful a process for a Hefner, one of the reasons the founder's daughter, Christie, stepped down as chief executive in January. If her father wants to protect his legacy, he must step aside from it, too.
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